Your dog is Da Bomb. The most loyal and lovable critter to ever roam God’s green earth. Einstein in a fur coat. So why isn’t Fido allowed on most national park trails? Is this prohibition a “stupid Gestapo law” and “illegal harassment” designed to take a bite out of your personal liberties?
This rule is in play at my favorite local hiking destination, Mount Rainier National Park. (See: Where Can I Hike With My Dog?) So I went straight to the top and put the question to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. (The National Park Service falls under DOI jurisdiction.)
Short answer: It’s Not. About. You. So don’t take it personally. Savvy?
Longer answer: It’s still not about you.
Here’s my inquiry, followed by an *official* NPS response:
Date: Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 8:13 PM
Subject: From NPS.gov: Dogs on Trails?
I understand that dogs are not allowed on any trail inside the park. Could you please provide the rationale for this rule? Is it a federal law, a local ordinance, or…? There are those who affirm that dogs should be allowed anywhere on public lands as long as they are leashed. Is there a specific reason why this does not suffice for trails at Mount Rainier? Please explain. Thank you.
About a month later I received the following response from Ms. Colleen Derber, Staff Assistant, National Park Service, Regulations, Jurisdiction, and Special Park Uses, Washington, D.C.:
From: “Derber, Colleen” <email@example.com>
Cc: Barbara Baxter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, 26 May 2017 12:55:01 -0400
Subject: Reply to your Inquiry about Dogs in National Parks
Thank you for your inquiry about dogs in units administered by the National Park Service, and specifically, Mount Rainer National Park. Existing regulations that prohibit dogs on trails were developed to protect native wildlife, the environment, and your pet. Dogs are natural predators that could bother or harm wildlife, which is prohibited. Because of dogs’ primitive instinct to mark territories, they also have the potential to spread disease.
Note: I’ve lost track of how many of times I’ve encountered irresponsible pet owners on trails. They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones who don’t clean up after their dogs, leaving canine “calling cards” all over the trail for the rest of us to (hopefully) miss. Ugh! Derber continues:
In addition, because trails in national parks tend to be narrow, there is the possibility that dogs could damage vegetation near the trail. The regulations have also been designed to protect your pet from harm.
The National Park Service (NPS) general regulations pertaining to pets are codified at Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations, section 2.15. To view these regulations, use a search engine, and type in e-cfr. Once you access that website, search for title 36, then parts1-199, then part 2, section 2.15. Park-specific pet regulations, including those pertaining to Mount Rainer, may be viewed by going to our website at www.nps.gov, click on Find a Park by State, click on the State where the park unit is located, and then click on the individual park unit that will link to the unit’s webpage. On the left side of the page, click on the tab for Management, and then click on Laws and Policies. There you will find the Superintendent’s Compendium. The compendium is where park-specific regulations and designations are listed. …
Generally, pets are welcome at most areas administered by the NPS, but they are prohibited in public buildings, public transportation vehicles, swimming beaches, and other structures or areas directed by the park superintendent. Most NPS units do not allow pets on trails. Pets must also be restrained on a leash no longer than six feet or confined at all times and cannot be left unattended and tied to an object.
Thank you again for your inquiry and your interest in national parks.
You have a choice when it comes to most national parks. No one’s forcing you to visit a national park. But if you choose to do so, your choice includes abiding by park rules. Even if you don’t agree with them personally.
If said rules include “no pets on trails,” then you have another choice: either obey park rules or risk a citation and/or a fine. Your average third grader knows better than to deliberately defy park regulations or have a meltdown over same when they’re enforced. Meanwhile, there are plenty of pet-friendly options available inside most national parks.
So lighten up.
For more, see: Where Can I Hike With My Dog?